A few pumpkin beers to enjoy—and avoid—this autumn season

Forget pumpkin lattes—it’s all about the pumpkin brews.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Pumpkin season is here! While spiced lattes and nostalgic pies sound great, I’m definitely more excited for something else: pumpkin beer. There’s something about the seasonal squash that just lends itself to the making of great flavored beers. Is it the notes of nutmeg? Does the fresh pumpkin pulp brighten the beer up? Who cares? Just get to the store and pick some up—this stuff will be gone before you know it.

Not sure of what to buy? Neither was I ... so I tasted as many different brews as I could find. All of these ales can be found at Total Wine, with many of the breweries participating in this weekend's Downtown Brew Festival. Hopefully this rundown will help you avoid the bums of the bunch, and maybe some of these delicious descriptions will sound like music to your (very thirsty) ears:

Spicy Pumpkin Ale by Indian Wells

This beer definitely didn’t live up to its name. Although the strong aroma conjures thoughts of pumpkin pie, this brew lacks a strong presence of pumpkin and spice. But you can detect hints of both in the aftertaste, and it’s refreshingly light—not what you’d expect from a fall seasonal, yet nice.

Pumpkinhead Ale by Shipyard

Exceptionally sweeter than most pumpkin ales, this lighter variety will win the hearts of fruity brew fans (think Sunset Wheat by Leinenkugel’s). The flavor of pumpkin pie completely overpowers the beer (it’s almost weird), which results in a super saccharin taste. Not my favorite, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Previous experiences with Blue Moon and Shock Top’s pumpkin beers informed my preconceived opinion of this other large brewery’s version, and I almost set it back on the shelf because of that. I’m glad I didn’t—the pumpkin flavor blends beautifully with the smoky, nutty notes of the dark ale. It’s well-rounded and warm, perfect to enjoy after a brisk evening at the pumpkin patch.

Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal Ale

This beer smells great, and its taste almost delivers what its aroma hints at. With strong notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, the amber ale will definitely have you dreaming for a slice of pumpkin pie. Medium-bodied and full of flavor, this is a great starting point for those new to pumpkin brew.

Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale

Flat and bitter, a nice balance of fresh pumpkin flavor might have saved this dark ale, but it unfortunately didn’t. The mouthfeel was awful and the squash’s presence was so understated it didn’t even really taste like pumpkin ale; it’s more comparable to a sub-par brown ale.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Full disclaimer: I LOVE THIS BEER (as you may have read in Weekly’s 2010 Booze Issue). Seriously, a pumpkin brew roundup without this amazing selection would be true beer blasphemy. Dogfish’s variety is brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, and its full body really allows your taste buds to pick each and every one of those flavors up. Spicy and sweet at the front, nutty with caramel notes at the finish, this is almost dessert. So skip the pie this Turkey Day, and opt for a sixer of this instead.


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